Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland goal hero Kyle Lafferty has eyes on achieving Premier League goal

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty is refusing to give up on his Premier League dream.

At international level the 27-year-old from Kesh is having the time of his life, but at club level his frustrations continue.

Seemingly unwanted at Norwich City, Carrow Road boss Alex Neil would be happy to loan the Fermanagh native out to a Championship club, which is still possible even though the transfer window has closed until January.

Lafferty, however, is intent on staying with the newly promoted outfit and working his way into Neil's first team plans.

The well travelled ex-Rangers ace, who has had spells in Switzerland, Italy and a loan spell last season with Turkish outfit Caykur Rizespor, wants to prove he has what it takes to be a top flight hit.

Anyone who has watched him play for Northern Ireland in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign would say he certainly merits a chance to show what he can do, having scored seven goals in eight Group F games to date, taking the country to the verge of reaching next year's finals in France.

He has yet to play for Norwich this season after recently returning from a knee injury, but hopes to make his Premier League debut before Northern Ireland play again next month, even if right now he is well down the pecking order behind Cameron Jerome, Dieumerci Mbokani and Gary Hooper.

"I will just go back and work my socks off in training and keep on knocking on the manager's door," said Lafferty, after his stoppage time leveller at home to Hungary on Monday night in the 1-1 draw which kept Northern Ireland top of the table.

"If he sits me down and says I'm not in his plans, then it's time for me to make a decision whether I go out on loan or stay and work even harder.

"Every single player in the world wants to play in the Premier League, you just have to look at the players playing in it.

"I want to play against those players. I'm not going to throw the towel in now, take the easy option and go out on loan to a Championship team. I want to play against the best players in the world in the Premier League.

"When I was a young boy, I sat watching Match of the Day, dreaming of playing there."

No matter what happens with Lafferty at Norwich, he has cemented his place in the hearts of Northern Ireland followers over the past year with his performances and goals in a green shirt.

Due to suspension he will have to maintain a watching brief when Michael O'Neill's side are in action again on October 8 against Greece at Windsor Park.

A home victory would see Northern Ireland reach their first major championship since the 1986 World Cup and Lafferty believes it can be achieved.

"Against Greece I'm going to be one of the fans for the night cheering the boys on, praying we qualify," said Lafferty.

"We really want to do it in front of our own fans and I'm confident we will.

"This country has been through enough over the last 30 years and it's about time we sent them to a tournament.

"They've seen teams go out and get beaten by Luxembourg. That's not us anymore.

"We have enough in the squad to go out and get a result against Greece.

"You just have to look at the whole squad from players on the bench to players that Michael (O'Neill) has to leave out. They are all good players.

"Also this team does not get beaten at Windsor any more.

"Our heart and determination won't let any team come here and walk over us.

"Michael O'Neill's team will not lose at Windsor, especially with our fans.

"We may not have won the game against Hungary to qualify, but we're not panicking. Hungary and Romania have to go out and win their two games. If they don't we qualify. So all we have to do is go out and win a game and I'm pretty sure we will."

Lafferty expects Josh Magennis, who he affectionately calls an 'absolute clown' to be his replacement when Greece come to town.

They played together in the later stages against Hungary when Magennis was brought on as a substitute to help out a shattered Lafferty in attack.

Had Northern Ireland not gone behind with 16 minutes left, Lafferty would have been taken off.

Asked how he had kept going until the 93rd minute, the forward said: "Probably because of the respect I have for the manager and the lads and the fans.

"They showed faith in me after the last campaign when I got sent off versus Portugal at home and I owe them everything I've got.

"I saw Josh was coming on and I knew my time was up, but luckily for me, Hungary scored, Michael kept me on and I went on to get the equaliser."

It was the type of dramatic moment at the Kop end - though with no stand or fans behind the goal after it was demolished due to structural issues - that David Healy used to specialise in.

Only Healy, known to the Green and White Army as King David, has scored more goals for Northern Ireland than Lafferty.

The former finished on 36 and the latter has 16 and counting, having nearly doubled his tally since the Euro qualifiers began.

No wonder fans have started comparing the two.

Lafferty's reaction: "I think there's only one David Healy.

"What he has done for his country is exceptional, the goals he's scored, the hat-tricks he's scored.

"No-one will ever touch what David Healy did for his country.

"He gave 110 per cent and Michael has a squad now that gives 110 per cent.

"It's nice to hear people comparing me with David, but it will be nicer to cross the finish line and see the fans celebrate an important and historic night at Windsor Park."

Belfast Telegraph